Thursday, August 31, 2006

crypt for the soul

In one of his classic bits, Lenny Bruce portrays religion as a commercial enterprise and sees the persecution of atheists as a logically sound measure to protect religion's market share and brand. But blasphemy laws do more than protect religions, they protect the social order of the society that enacts them.

Blasphemy laws serve ruling elites by creating a context in which thought is so clouded that people are too intellectually inhibited to question the prevailing social order. For example, Saudi Arabia has some of the strictest blasphemy laws in the world, and its residents lack the mental agility to question whether the Saudi princes, who nominally follow a faith that insists on their brotherhood with their co-religionists, are good Moslems when they suck their nation's patrimony out of the ground and spend it on Parisian whores, Scotch liquor, and New York real estate. Blasphemy laws have pushed Saudis into such a confused intellectual frenzy that they think their inferiority complex will be cured if they spill enough Jewish blood.

In our society, commerce is, of course, the predominant religion, and intellectual property laws function much like Lenny Bruce's blasphemy laws. On a superficial level, people have ceded the emotional space traditionally occupied by religion and myth to celebrities and entertainment companies, who take their tithe one magazine and movie ticket at a time. In our service economy, the soul is studied with greater rigor than in any seminary, and is subdivided into a set of appetites that are inflamed by new and increasingly exciting entertainment products, and once a company has spent money establishing a presence inside people's psyches, it seems only fair that they should collect the rent.

However, intellectual property concepts also serve the deeper nefarious purpose as blasphemy laws, by inhibiting thought and discussion. People generally think the First Amendment was written to protect journalists, but it really protects everybody's right to clearheaded intellectual inquirty. So when the the First Amendment is being whittled down to the point where it no longer even protects journalists, restrictions are also cutting into our own brains and reducing our intellectual flexibility. In other words, as definitions of "fair use" are increasingly constrained, people will have a harder time thinking their thoughts without cryptamnesically violating a copyright, trademark, or patent.

Safest, of course, is not to think at all, and that, of course, is what the overlords want. But, in dialectical splendor, the current encroachments of intellectual property laws and diminishment of first amendment protection has accompanied a marvelous outpouring of creativity that tests the very fringes of the system. Hilarious movie-mashups, ytmnds, and genrically innovative short films have all blossomed at the same time as multi-nationals have been trying to restrict our freedom of thought and expression.

The question for people in emerging media is whether they want to become part of the problem or part of the solution. The problem is a massive entertainment complex that wants to strangle innovative thought by using dark armies of lawyers and intellectual property experts to guard their "industry". The solution is to work towards a just and fair society where robots take care of our needs and we all create beautiful and enduring works of art. It has been interesting to watch the controversey regarding the possibility that Stephen Colbert's writers "stole" a bit from Ze Frank's show. Ze Frank's partisans have been clamoring for their hero to recieve compensation for his original idea, but the entire charm of Ze Frank's project is that he has positioned himself outside the mainstream, and the thought of his getting involved in petty intellectual property wars is very sad. To his credit, he has taken the position that it was, in fact, a lame joke -- so, if he was "ripped off", it was like a person stealing a pile of finger-nail clippings in a room filled with gold-encrusted walnuts.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As always Borrow, you cut to the kwik. What is going on now is another variation on a very old historical theme: the mechanics of self perpetuating power. But blasphemy, the airing of the unsayable, is not quite the same as the formulation of a necessary thought. The greatest blasphemy is the tapping into a subconscious truth, a need to say something beyond what the code and rituals of a given culture condone. But what happens when the subconscious of the well intended blasphemer is short circuited via a co-optive purging mechanism in the culture itself? what happens when the charge of blasphemy carries no meaning? If someone curses in a forest of blasphemers will anyone hear it? Enter dialectics. But
that too is a kind of blasphemy, a civil complex kind of cursing of the prevailling conditions.
As for the comparison between tithing to a church and to Hollywood or whatever, i think it is more instructive to ask the question, who do you serve, God or Mammon. If the answer is the latter, you will be thrust into the pharasitical realm of nit picking, of the castration and cauterizatiion of one's creative energy and praise for the maker. Who gives a flying fuck who
owns things, ideas, property?
But you are quite right to point out
the erosion of eros, the thrust of thanatos in our culture's preoccupation with intellectual property. It's kind of pathetic that we keep re-inventing the same ritual enactiments of anxiety and wanting control and power. Maybe the ultimate blasphemy is an act of radical abnegation. To want nothing, have nothing, desire nothing.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Jacques Angstrom said...

Dang! I jus' love the way this dialectic thing works! Somebody shoots their mouth off and says somethin' stupid, and, shore enuf, somebody smart comes along and says something smart.

6:00 AM  

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